Cox Communications Inc., the third-largest cable provider in the United States, is known for its high capacity, reliable broadband delivery network and its superior customer service. Operating in 22 states, Cox has more than six million customers and over 20,000 employees. Key to its ability to maintain its reputation for superior customer service is its corps of field services representatives.
“Our field services representatives are among our most valuable employees,” explains Jim Jones, Senior IT Project Manager for Mobile Solution Services at Cox. “They are the people who deal directly with our customers on a daily basis. They are really the face of the company to our customers. Our field services representatives are equipped with laptop computers mounted in their vehicles. In all there are approximately 3,500 laptops in use in the field. These units provide the representatives with wireless access to the Cox work order management system and other key applications.”
Until recently, managing, updating, patching and reconfiguring these laptops were done completely manually. “The updating process for the work order management system, which was typically done once or twice a year,” says Jones, “entailed collecting all 3,500 units at depots throughout the country and updating them one-by-one. Generally, an update cycle would take two to five IT staff anywhere from two to four days during which time our field services representatives were forced to revert to a manual, paper-based system. The net impact was reduced productivity and increased overtime – the process had a major, negative impact on our day-to-day operations. Over time, it became increasingly apparent that we had to find a way to automate our laptop management and update processes.”
Thanks to Afaria, the frontline management and security solution from iAnywhere, Cox found a way to do just that, and in the process, increase the productivity of its field services representatives and IT staff, save money, and maintain its reputation for superior customer service and its competitive edge.
Afaria Solves Architectural and Bandwidth Challenges
When exploring ways to automate its laptop management and update processes, the Cox IT team realized it faced a couple of unique challenges. Cox’s decentralized architecture, comprised of a central data center and regional facilities across the country, presented one challenge. While the company wanted to centralize its work order management system and mobile systems management systems, it also wanted to provide its regional locations the flexibility to manage deployments and configurations independently and in a manner that would support dynamically changing business needs.
In addition, although wireless networks have evolved to the point where Cox’s mobile workers have continuous coverage, the company still had to deal with the issue of limited bandwidth to make sure its automated device management and updating processes would not interfere with its mission-critical dispatch application.
“Afaria enabled us to address both of these challenges effectively and efficiently,” says Jones. “We dealt with the architectural challenge by implementing Afaria in a dual server (“parent-child”) configuration in our central data center. This provided the local site the required flexibility while maintaining the right level of enterprise scalability to facilitate nationally supported updates and deployments. Afaria also helped us deal with our bandwidth challenge. Being a mobile device management tool, Afaria gave us the ability with bandwidth throttling to trickle updates out to the mobile units for a short period of time before the upgrades were actually applied.”
To implement Afaria, Cox engaged iAnywhere’s Professional Services team. “Working with iAnywhere Professional Services,” says Jones, “we went through a systems engineering cycle in which we created the system design and an enterprise infrastructure design document that incorporated the Afaria solution. With their help, we were up and running weeks sooner than we would have been otherwise and we also have a more stable infrastructure as a result of their involvement.”
Afaria Facilitates Business Automation Innovation
Cox Communications is known as an innovator in its use of information technology. The company demonstrated its innovative talents in the ways it has used Afaria beyond the solution’s most common implementations.
“We’ve found that we’ve been able to use Afaria to facilitate additional business automation,” says Jones. “For instance, maintaining our physical plant is critical to our ability to deliver reliable service to our customers. Current documentation – maps and design drawings in particular – is something our field force needs to have. In the past, we’ve distributed this information as printed material in hundreds of large binders on a quarterly basis. With Afaria, we’re able to distribute this documentation electronically as a file transfer. Aside from the obvious benefit of not having to manually produce and distribute hundreds of binders, our field services representatives now have plant maps that are more up-to-date versus the old quarterly updated hard copy maps.”
One Cox location also developed and deployed a Plant Damage application using Afaria. This application enables the location to quickly identify and document outages due to plant damage often caused by competitors building out their infrastructures. Where the previous paper-based plant damage reporting process took days, the Afaria-powered application has reduced that to about 15 minutes, producing two key benefits. By having this information so quickly, Cox field services representatives can repair the damage more quickly. Additionally, this application allows Cox to contact the vendor responsible for the damage almost immediately to recoup the cost of the damage and subsequent repairs.
Cox is extremely pleased with the business results it has realized through its use of Afaria. “We estimate that we’re saving approximately $500,000 annually, just from the ability to automate the management and updating of our laptops in the field,” says Jones. “But our actual ROI is significantly greater than that when you factor in our ability to automate other business processes.
“We’re using Afaria to manage all of our field services computing assets. As a result, we’ve achieved reduced downtime, man-hours and IT costs as well as reduced deployment times for new mobile applications such as our map update and plant damage systems. Our mobile infrastructure is very stable thanks in part to Afaria. I would tell anyone with a mobile deployment in which bandwidth is limited to consider Afaria.”